Beyond the Binary: Question Sixteen
June 27, 2013 § 3 Comments
How important do you think space (physical, emotional etc.) to experiment is in the development and expression of non-binary gender identities?
Jennie: It would certainly have made things much easier for me. I felt as if I had no space at all in which I could be comfortable. Being a queer teenager in the ‘eighties, I felt hunted, very cautious about expreessing mysself generally, and this was compounded by the fact I didn’t really feel I could fit in to what was then a very role-restricted LGBT scene. When I did come to understand myself and talk about it, I had to fight for every inch of space. We I see young genderqueer people now who have grown up with support, I marvel at how happy they are, how delightful to be around. I hope we can one day make their experiennce universal.
Nat: There’s a pressure to have always known what your gender should be, or to fit into predefined ‘package deal’ conceptions of gender; be those binary roles, transition paths or other people’s conceptions of their nonbinary gender. I personally see gender as something extremely personal that one finds comfort with through a process of experimentation and personal exploration.
Referring back to my answer to the deciphering your identity question, I don’t think I could’ve done any of that without the trying different gender expressions, social roles, names, pronouns and hormone sets. Space to experiment and find your comfort point with gender both socially and physically is extremely helpful in my experience.
GrrlAlex: Space to experiment is important – by way of example, many of the transwomen I know started by dressing in the privacy of their own homes, perhaps defining as CD/TV before becoming more aware of transgender and accepting the possibility of being transsexual and moving to accept and embrace that new identity. In my experience as a clinician, transwomen tend to fear rejection and ridicule more so than transmen. Within the genderqueer community it feels as if there are more crossing from natal female to GQ than natal male to GQ – does this say something about the need for safe space to explore and experiment with gender. In my own case, I’ve set out to create a space where I can be out as female identified and not experience the kinds of hassle or danger that so many have described as part of the trans experience for them.
CN: Absolutely essential – safe places to challenge ourselves, experiment, explore etc. are vital for all people, but in such a gender policed society I think it behoves the trans community and our friends to make a deliberate effort to create events/spaces where everyone can feel safe enough to address questions of who they are and how they want to present/be treated. Even when I compare my experiences with those of trans/genderqueer people ten years younger than I am, I can see the difference having safe social spaces makes. It was one of the reasons I co-founded QYN, and set up a GSA at my school but, still, my teenage years and exploration of my gender/sex were marked by loneliness and isolation – failing to find resources that included people like me, hours spent binding in my room, being frightened of my own body, being the only person at an ‘all girls school’ to wear men’s clothes and have visible body hair/masculine haircut. My university’s ‘LGB’ society was revoltingly transphobic – the first time I found myself in a supportive social environment was when I was 20, attending a Drag King workshop run by Ingo (back when Wotever was just starting out). Articulating that it certainly wasn’t ‘drag’ for me, in contrast to the other attendees, and being able to talk about that, finally forced me to confront the fact that I couldn’t keep my transness as an intellectual/emotional thing, and that I couldn’t push down the pain of dysphoria any longer. I just wish that I could have had that experience earlier. In addition – I think it would actually be a really valuable thing for people who consider themselves cis to have a chance to play around with gender – to take the fear out of it, and to realise that it’s a totally normal and okay thing to do.
Hel: Incredibly important: see my answer to question 14. Having a space in which you can safely explore your feelings about gender, embodiment, and how you want to move through the world is really crucial. I think that’s an important thing that everyone should have: I don’t think it creates or develops specifically ‘non-binary gender identities’ as such, but I think everyone would benefit from some self-examination in terms of gender and how they fit into it, and I think it can often enable people to articulate something they perhaps wouldn’t otherwise have words for. Certainly if someone is being pressured into a more traditional narrative – whether that’s to do with ignoring/repressing their feelings about gender, with following one of the prevalent trans narratives of going from one gender to the ‘opposite’ gender, or with the idea of ‘detransitioning’ – then space to experiment without that pressure might well lead that person to identify outside the binary.